To make matters worse, these snacks and treats are addictive because consuming them activates the pleasure centers in our brain. So, we continue to reach for a bag of chips instead of an apple when our blood sugar drops. This cycle makes following a healthy diet a little tricky.
Of course, treating yourself to a warm brownie or a handful of french fries every now and then is part of a balanced diet, but if these foods make up the bulk of your caloric intake, it’s time to rethink your food choices. Rather than relying on meat, dairy, refined grains and packaged snacks as the majority of your food consumption, fill your plate with an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. For those who have a sweet tooth, a preference for salty snacks or a tendency to order a bacon cheeseburger at a restaurant, consuming more fresh, whole, natural foods will do wonders for your physical, mental and emotional health. Plus, shifting to a mainly plant-based diet will curb your cravings for junk food.
Plants give you the energy, sustenance and nourishment you need to ward off diseases that limit the quality and duration of your life. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States since it’s responsible for one in every four deaths. Animal proteins contain cholesterol and saturated fat, which can weaken your heart health, so eating more plants and limiting your meat intake decrease your risk of heart disease.
A diet rich in plants also reduces the risk of stroke, cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, inflammation, obesity, type 2 diabetes and eye and digestive issues. Since plants are a rich source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants, they play a huge role in protecting against life-threatening diseases.
The best preventative measure to take if you want to live longer is loading up on fruits and vegetables. Increasing your intake of plants and lowering your intake of animal products lowers your risk of premature death by 25 percent.
Fresh, whole foods will not only help you live a longer life, but they will also give you a more enjoyable one. Decreasing the amount of processed foods you eat and consuming a wide variety of colorful plants can increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut and decrease the amount of bad bacteria. A healthy gut leads to a healthy mind, so plants can boost serotonin levels, improve your mood, lower anxiety and amplify your overall happiness.
If you’re ready to add some years onto your life, prevent a handful of diseases and feel more energized, focus on adding more plants to your current diet rather than cutting out all junk food. Eating a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be about deprivation or restriction. You don’t have to limit yourself to raw carrots and spinach for the rest of your life to reap the health benefits of plants. In fact, cutting out all processed foods can backfire on you, so allowing yourself to eat them every now and then is a more sustainable, manageable and balanced approach.
To start, try adding broccoli to your favorite pasta dish, loading your breakfast smoothie with spinach and frozen berries, pairing your afternoon cheese stick with celery or grating zucchini in baked goods. Have some fun with plant-based meals and get creative finding new ways to add more natural foods to your diet. Experiment with new plant-based recipes, and whip up an Instagram-worthy meal with every color of the rainbow represented. Try designating one day a week to eating meatless meals and get your friends and family involved. You’ll feel proud of yourself for trying something new and for taking action toward improving your mind and body.